Congress has communalised Indian politics for decades
The BJP’s effort at evolving a vision document for Indian Muslims has, understandably, sent shivers down the Congress’s spine. The party which has thrived by ghettoising the minorities in the country and by embedding in their psyche a perpetual sense of siege has suddenly begun feeling the heat of a changing discourse. For the Congress, which has mastered the art of terrifying the minorities in India with the scarecrow of majoritarian oppression, it is bewildering to see that the BJP is looking at the Muslims, not as a use-and-throw vote-bank, but as important stakeholders in the national life. This is a language which the Congress is unable to comprehend, hence its restlessness and its resorting to various conspiracies.
But if one were to examine the political history of post-independence India, it is the Congress which has been the single most active force in creating denominational fissures in the country. Its politics has, in fact, thrived on religious divisions and religion-induced hate and clashes. Leaving its own Family icons aside and safe, it has tainted every other leader, especially those who have tried to oppose its brand of negative politics, with the communal or anti-national brush.
As an expression of this sad politics, no Congress leader turns up at the Parliament to honour Syama Prasad Mookerjee on his birth anniversary, no Congressmen turns up to honour the memory of the scholar-revolutionary and Hindu ideologue Veer Savarkar, nor are they seen in large numbers to honour the legacy of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Displaying its continued Netaji phobia, the Congress has, over the last decade, repeatedly thwarted all efforts at trying to designate the legendary patriot’s birthday as the “Deshprem Divas” (Patriotism Day).
For the Congress, all these nationalist icons need to be erased from the collective psyche of the nation. Their memory needs to be eradicated because they either opposed the Congress brand of politics or because they spoke out against Nehru and his ways. A similar treatment has been meted out to other leaders who came later and sought to bring about a decisive anti-Congress wave in the country. The vicious habit continues to afflict the Congress, especially the “Family”, even today.
In the early days, this sense of a communal divide over ideology was absent in those who were leaders in the true sense. A profound catholicity, bonhomie and a sense of national interest, despite ideological differences, always permeated relations between them. So strong were these bonds that it led Dr S Radhakrishnan, then Vice-President of India, to write a foreword to a compilation of educational speeches delivered by Syamaprasad Mookerjee that was published posthumously. Radhakrishnan did not hesitate to express his “great admiration and affection” for Mookerjee, whom he called “an educator, humanist and politician.”
The foreword is illustrative of the actual tone of the political discourse in a bygone era, “He (Syamaprasad) was a man of wide knowledge and unshakeable purpose,” observed Radhakrishnan, “The dynamic forcefulness of his personality made a lasting impression on all those who came into contact with him. He had to choose between public service and private happiness and he chose the former… With the passage of time his reputation as a staunch patriot and great Parliamentarian has risen… In his public life he was never afraid of expressing his inmost conviction. In silence the cruellest lies are told. When great wrongs are committed it is criminal to be silent in the hope that truth will one day find its voice. In a democratic society one should speak out, especially when we are developing an unequalled power of not seeing what we do not wish to see.” It is inconceivable that the Congress today agrees with such a profound evaluation of Mookerjee.
The Mahatma, whose ideological heir the Congress and the ‘Family’ claims to be, was himself free from this divisive mindset. It was at his insistence that Mookerjee and Ambedkar were included in the first Cabinet of independent India. He saw the need of their great talent in the building of a new India. Nehru, until then opposing the move in his pettiness, had to finally accede.
Even in his approach to Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha, Gandhi displayed a great appreciation and catholicity. He publicly supported the Mahasabha’s move to protest the Bihar Government’s ban of its annual session in December 1941. Lauding the Mahasabha leaders for courting arrest, Gandhi issued a statement from Bardoli expressing his solidarity with the leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha: “I must confess it fills me with delight to find Vir Savarkar, Dr Moonje and other leaders being arrested in their attempt to assert the very primary and very fundamental right of holding an orderly meeting subject to all reasonable restrictions about the preservation of public peace. I observe that Dr Syama Prasad, the new Finance Minister of the Bengal Government, has successfully courted arrest by committing the same honourable offence that his colleagues have committed. I congratulate the leaders of the Sabha on their dignified and peaceful protest against the utterly arbitrary action of the Bihar Government.”
But such approaches and healthy trends changed once Nehru assumed full powers. Once he was in control, the communal mindset peeped through Nehru’s actions and directives. For instance, he wrote to K C Neogy, then Minister for Refugee Rehabilitation, suggesting, that he “should appoint Muslim officers to deal with Muslim refugees.” In order to prove his secular credentials, Nehru went to another extreme during the inking of the Nehru-Liaquat pact. He agreed in principal to Liaquat’s proposal that Muslims in India “should have seats reserved for them in proportion to their population in various public services and in representative bodies in States as well as at the Centre.” It was N V Gadgil’s, then Central Public Works Minister, vehement opposition that halted Nehru in his quest of communalising Indian polity.
It was the Congress under Nehru which mastered the art of communal electioneering. In the by-election to the Ayodhya-Faisabad constituency in the summer of 1948, the Congress selected a sadhu from Deoria in UP to stand against the socialist stalwart and a man of “great standing and sincerity”, Acharya Narendra Deva. The entire election campaign of the Congress was meant to polarise voters and seek votes in the name of Ram. Posters in the temple town depicted the Congress candidate being welcomed by Hanuman and sitting beside Lord Rama himself.
In another by-election to the Amroha constituency in UP, the Congress, noting that Muslims represented 37 per cent of the population, put up one Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim to fight the towering J B Kripalani, who had the support of the combined Opposition. Muslim clerics from Deoband and Ajmer were brought in by the Congress to “incite religious sentiments” and polarise voters.
It was again the Congress under Nehru that inked a pact with the Muslim League in Kerala, a pact that survives to this day and allows the agenda of Islamic radicalism to actualise itself in the State. These were all seen as legitimate political moves within secular limits because it was the Congress which spearheaded these for its political aggrandisement and survival.
The communalisation of Indian politics thus has been a singular contribution of the Congress; it only sought to serve itself. Its secularism is just posturing and it shall never be capable of transcending its communal mindset; it remains a captive of its past ghost.
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Anirban Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. He can be followed on twitter at @anirbanganguly.